“We asked for bottles of water from the neighbors because we were closed. We had to defecate in sandwich bags and heated water on the stone grill to wash ourselves,” says an older teenager. Another: “It will become normal at some point. My friends got food and I made excuses or said I wasn’t hungry.” A third: “I took my braces off my teeth with pliers because there was no more money for ortho.”
It is a selection of the stories of 114 children, teenagers and young people, which the Diversion agency recorded about their experiences with the Benefit Affair. The report Know us, help us was commissioned by the Ministry of Finance, which is now considering a ‘children’s scheme’ for tens of thousands of children whose parents got into financial trouble because the government wrongly branded them fraudsters. It will soon be published what the children’s scheme is about.
The stress caused by fines, reminders, bailiff visits and account seizure took its toll on these children’s youth, according to the report. Some parents broke down, others lost their jobs, ended up on unemployment benefits and later on social assistance or debt restructuring. Other parents separated. Between 2015 and 2021, 1,675 ‘child benefits’ were placed out of their homes by the Child Protection Agency between 2015 and 2021, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
To the ATM as soon as possible
A young adult says: “It still affects my daily life so much today: I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since I was 10 years old. (…) I also work six days a week, sometimes double shifts. To pay off debts. My future has been taken away from me, I would like to pass that on to the government. That they stand still.”
Another says: “My mother’s payments came on a certain day every month. Then we were ready to go to the ATM: we had to withdraw all the money from the account as quickly as possible to buy food. Sometimes we were late and the money was already gone. Issued to the tax authorities.”
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According to the report and recommendations, money alone is not enough. Individual help and individual recognition is what these children are asking the government for. According to them, a generic amount and a website for everyone with tips and suggestions is not enough. The children would like to have a ‘financial doctor’ that they can go to and who is independent: ‘They can pay for it, but I don’t want anything to do with them anymore. Soon I’ll be back for hours, like with the tax authorities.” They are, by all accounts, afraid of the government and afraid of money.
‘I was very alone, also because I was bullied. I wasn’t talking about anything. Not even with teachers because of the problems at home’
The loneliness that many children experienced because their parents had so many problems is also reflected in the report: “I was very private, also because I was bullied. I wasn’t talking about anything. Not even with teachers because of the problems at home. There were threats to kick us out, so that fear played a role. In the end, you keep everything to yourself and you’re no longer open about anything.” Another says: “I got angry at school, misunderstood and perceived as aggressive. I just couldn’t tell how things were going at home.”
Others say that they began to despise their parents: “I didn’t take my mother seriously for a long time. When we ran out of water for two weeks in the winter because my mother couldn’t pay the bill, I got angry and stopped taking her seriously. Rutte’s letter changed this [veel gedupeerde gezinnen kregen vorig jaar een excuusbrief van premier Rutte] but also made me sad. I’ve been mad at my mother for half of my life, it’s crucial and hard to get over’.
Bureau Diversion states that the children do not want “‘harsh help'” in any case. They do not want help from Youth Care or administrators. And they say they don’t want consequences if they don’t follow advice. They want free help. For example, from a mentor: ‘I want someone who is really there for me, with no other interests.’ It is possible, according to the interviewed children. “also best digital”.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on 20 October 2022